a second take

NYSUT head: Getting rid of test scores only a 'first step' toward evaluation overhaul

As pressure mounts for lawmakers to decide how to adjust the state’s teacher evaluation system, the president of New York State United Teachers ratcheted up her rhetoric, saying the union wants changes that go beyond the use of test scores.

“NYSUT’s goal is to do an overhaul of the entire APPR,” Karen Magee told Chalkbeat, referring to the state’s evaluation law. “This is the first step towards doing so.”

Magee wouldn’t comment on the negotiations, which are centered on the role that tougher, Common Core-aligned state tests will play in teacher evaluations this year and next year. But she said the union was still in talks with the governor’s office about removing the scores and that she remained “guardedly optimistic” that a deal would get done.

Magee, a self-described “militant,” took over NYSUT in April when she unseated sitting union chief Richard Iannuzzi in an election that was framed as a repudiation of the union’s recent cooperation with the state on issues including changes to teacher evaluations.

Since students first took the new tests last year, which sent proficiency rates plummeting, teachers have protested that the assessments aren’t accurate measurements of student growth, especially while teachers are still becoming familiar with the standards. They have also raised other concerns with how the evaluations measure student learning, since thousands of teachers’ evaluations will be based partially on test results for students and subjects they didn’t teach.

“There’s a hundred ways that we need to go to make this right,” Magee said, adding that the principal observation process was also a concern. “The way we’re doing it right now is broken.”

The union leader’s comments come just a day before the legislative session is scheduled to end, and pressure is mounting for officials to come to a deal. NYSUT, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate have all said that making changes to teacher evaluations are a top legislative priority.

Magee was more measured last Friday, when she said that “stopping evaluations would be completely overkill.” The union’s issues, she said then, were only with the component of a teacher’s evaluation based on the new state tests. Those tests mostly affect the evaluations of elementary and middle school teachers, though high school English teachers will be rated on Common Core-aligned Regents exams this year.

On Wednesday, Magee said she hadn’t ruled out including high school teachers’ evaluations in a final deal, and that a number of issues remained on the table.

“We’re looking to remove anything that would jeopardize a teacher’s career,” Magee said.

Over the last two days, though, officials have raised concerns that what Magee is proposing could mean New York lose federal Race to the Top funding. On Tuesday, a federal education official said New York could lose $292 million if it approves a teacher evaluation bill supported by NYSUT and the Assembly that would remove test scores from teacher evaluations.

State Education Commissioner John King and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have also said the threat of funding cuts was a concern, according to Capital New York. But Magee and the bill’s sponsor, Catherine Nolan, both said they aren’t taking those warnings seriously.

“The Race to the Top funding is not a concern,” Magee said, adding that New York could apply for a “temporary waiver” from the U.S. Department of Education. (On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the department said that was not an option.)

At a press conference on Wednesday, Cuomo said that he wouldn’t sign any legislation that put Race to the Top funding at risk. The governor, who has repeatedly cited teacher evaluations as a signature achievement of his administration, is hoping this year’s legislation will be a final fix before implementation is complete.

“We’re implementing a system that should have been implemented years ago,” Cuomo said.

Others doubted that the U.S. Department of Education’s threats were serious.

“Plenty of other [Race to the Top-funded] states have hit the pause button on teacher evaluation consequences and I haven’t seen similar threats,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “I think they are trying to help their friend John King.”

On Wednesday, Ohio’s legislature passed a “safe harbor” bill that would delay using Common Core tests on teacher and school evaluations for one year. Ohio won $400 million in Race to the Top funds.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Another error

Missing student data means 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change

PHOTO: TN.gov

Tennessee’s testing problems continue. This time the issue is missing students.

Students’ test scores are used to evaluate teachers, and the failure of a data processing vendor to include scores for thousands of students may have skewed results for some teachers, officials said.

The scores, known as TVAAS, are based on how students improved under a teacher’s watch. The scores affect a teacher’s overall evaluation and in some districts, like Shelby County Schools, determine if a teacher gets a raise.

The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result.

The latest glitch follows a series of mishaps, including test scanning errors, which also affect teacher evaluations. A delay earlier this summer from the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing vendor, Questar, set off a chain of events that resulted in the missing student scores.

To calculate a teacher’s growth score, students and their test scores are assigned to a teacher. About 3 percent of the 1.5 million student-teacher assignments statewide had to be manually submitted in Excel files after Questar experienced software issues and fell behind on releasing raw scores to districts.

RANDA Solutions, a data processing vendor for the state, failed to input all of those Excel files, leading to the teachers’ scores being calculated without their full roster of students, said Sara Gast, a state spokeswoman. The error will not affect school or district TVAAS scores. (District-level TVAAS scores were released in September.)

Gast did not immediately confirm when the state will finalize those teachers’ scores with corrected student rosters. The state sent letters to districts last week informing them of the error and at least one Memphis teacher was told she had more than 80 of her 120 students missing from her score.

In the past, the process for matching students to the right teachers began at the end of the year, “which does not leave much room for adjustments in the case of unexpected delays,” Gast said in an email. The state had already planned to open the process earlier this year. Teachers can begin to verify their rosters next week, she said.